Age has never always been the best friend for films that we remember loving when we were younger. As a matter of fact I had not seen Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas in over ten years and that was back at a time I remember having absolutely loved the film but my perspective now has turned into something else. While I still recognize this Henry Selick/Tim Burton collaboration as a success especially in terms of what it presents with its wonderful animation, I have only found that said appreciation has faded a little more over time. It’s easy to see in part where it has become a family favourite especially during either the Halloween or Christmas seasons but outside of such events I can’t say I find myself compelled to revisit The Nightmare Before Christmas – as if that takes away from what it offers.
Set inside of a world where towns are defined by a holiday which they represent, we keep our eyes focused on Jack Skellington, who is otherwise known as the “Pumpkin King” in Halloween Town. After the continuous days of keeping the holiday so lively year after year, everything has become monotonous for him (just as things would normally go inside of our real lives) and somewhere else he seeks a change. He wanders off into Christmas Town after one Halloween and soon he finds himself fascinated by a new discovery. From this premise alone it only hints at what sort of liveliness Burton and Selick could ever promise with the unique world which they create, since it always presents a more blunt image of routines coming day by day in our lives.
The stop motion animation is lovely to look at from beginning to end. I think it would be easy to get that out of the way because even today it’s still just as amazing to look at as I can only imagine that it would ever have been back when it first had surfaced in 1993. Coming down to the movements of the characters or what backgrounds it presents all throughout, all I could even say on the spot is that it’s hard enough trying to deny how stunning it has remained all of these years that have come by. Every last detail adds more to the joys their representative holidays could present for the worlds in which its characters inhabit, aided with Tim Burton’s fascination with how they all go on celebrated year by year. Even though Selick went behind the camera, it still retains the touch one would only ever recognize out of Burton.
Together with the stunning appearance of the animation the musical numbers help liven the product, even though some of them never feel as baked as they could have. There’s a touch of greatness with the always memorable “This Is Halloween” to introduce Jack Skellington to our eyes, which could only ever be expected of Danny Elfman, who also provides Skellington’s singing voice while Chris Sarandon is serving for the speaking voice. Other numbers, for as good as they may be, do feel a bit lacking because something about them never rang nearly as energetic as a number as perfect as the aforementioned or “What’s This?”. For a musical, it still feels serviceable enough but never nearly as fully baked as it could have been.
What I found most off-putting, however, came in regards to the pacing. For a film that ran at 76 minutes in length, what caught me off-guard was how rather than moving at a breezy pace, The Nightmare Before Christmas actually felt so much longer than its supposed running time. It’s one of the last things that I could ever ask out of a musical like this but even the liveliness that can be felt with specific numbers can’t erase this glaring flaw. It would also be worth noting that the main antagonist of the film, Oogie Boogie, a figure who is representative of the Boogeyman, actually doesn’t appear until at least halfway into the film and thus he barely even has enough screen time to bring us closer to what it is that motivates him to become what he is. The concept behind him is fascinating enough just as the world has promised but it only flashed in front of myself now and somewhat lessened what impressions I had of the film upon first look.
Had I still remained within my early childhood years I can only imagine that I would love The Nightmare Before Christmas much more than I do right now but that’s not to say it ever has turned into a bad film all because of its age, but I’m a bit skeptical especially when it comes to what it establishes story-wise. In terms of the technical achievements bringing the creative life of this universe on the screen, The Nightmare Before Christmas is phenomenal, as a musical it is enjoyable, but character-wise outside of Jack Skellington and Sally (who are a great enough pairing together), so much more work could only have been more expected. This was my first time having watched the film since I was around eight or nine years old and for as good as it may be, it somewhat bums me out that I didn’t enjoy it nearly half as much as I did back then. It’s easy to see why it’s a holiday favourite especially around Halloween or Christmas, I’ll give it that.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Disney.
Directed by Henry Selick
Screenplay by Caroline Thompson, from a poem by Tim Burton
Produced by Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi
Starring Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Ken Page
Release Year: 1993
Running Time: 76 minutes